Palace to review PEZA leadership dispute




The Manila Times


MALACAÑANG on Friday said it will first carefully study the legalities and circumstances surrounding the leadership row with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) before it issues an official statement regarding the matter. In a briefing, Press Secretary Rose Beatrix “Trixie” Cruz-Angeles said since the opinion of the Office of the Executive Secretary (OES) has already been sought, the matter has been referred to the Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal for review. “If the answer is already clear, then they will simply make the recommendations right away,” the Palace official said. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) the other day affirmed its earlier decision naming Deputy Director General Tereso Panga as officer in charge (OIC). Panga’s appointment, however, was disputed by former PEZA chief Charito Plaza, who sought clarification from the OES. Plaza, an appointee of former president Rodrigo Duterte, has also been adamant in saying that she will not acknowledge Panga’s appointment, arguing that PEZA is not a government-owned or -controlled corporation (GOCC) and therefore not covered by Memorandum Circular (MC) 1 and 3. Cruz-Angeles insisted that the Palace will still implement MC 1 and 3. “Like we said, we will apply MC 1 and 3 and we’ll check the interpretation of the agency. So, right now I still have to find that out. But we have been strictly implementing MC 1 and 3,” she stated. “Since it’s a new development, most likely once it has reached the Office of the President (OP) or the ES, it will be submitted with the studies and recommendations,” she added. Plaza earlier said she will stay put and wait until the OP has come up with a decision. “I will only follow the Office of the President’s decision which we are currently seeking,” she expressed in a separate interview. In a related development, the Department of Trade and Industry said Secretary Alfredo Pascual was not interfering but was merely exercising his duties and functions when he issued the department order affirming the PEZA deputy director general as the officer in charge. The DTI issued the clarification in response to a letter sent by PEZA Director General (DG) Plaza to Secretary Pascual dated August 2, where she claimed her incumbency as head of the government agency created to help promote investments in the export-oriented manufacturing industry into the country. In the said letter, Plaza concluded as “erroneous” the interpretation that Memorandum Circular (MC) 1 and 2 issued by Malacañang extended the term of Deputy Director General Tereso Panga as OIC of PEZA. She also stated in her letter that MC 1 does not apply to government instrumentalities exercising corporate powers. Furthermore, Plaza claimed that the position of the PEZA director general was never vacated by MC 1. Therefore, Panga “cannot legally designate himself and continue acting as the OIC of PEZA” since she was never removed from the position. In addition, she alleged that the DTI secretary was “interfering” in the issue and requested that he “desist and allow the Executive Secretary to resolve the issue.” However, DTI Undersecretary Herminio Bagro 3rd said the conclusions made by Plaza are “not supported by the provisions of law and governing circulars.” “Being a presidential appointee without a fixed term of office, the position of PEZA director general clearly falls under the mandate of MC Nos. 1 and 3,” Bagro said in his letter sent to Plaza dated August 4. As to the claim that the position was never vacated and therefore could not be filled, Bagro referred to MC 1 which “deemed separated from the service” those presidential appointees whose appointments are classified as coterminous and those non-career officials who occupy career executive service positions. “We note that MC 1, issued by the Executive Secretary ‘by authority of the President,’ took effect immediately when it was issued on [July 30, 2022]. Thus, the PEZA director general position was legally deemed vacant as of noontime of [June 30, 2022],” he pointed out. Bagro further noted that to ensure the continuous and effective delivery of government services, MC 1 also provided that the nextin-rank and most senior official shall become the OIC until July 31, or until a replacement has been appointed or designated, whichever comes first. Thus, Panga, as the most senior career official in the agency, was “under a clear and legal obligation” to assume the position of the OIC by virtue of MC 1, he said. “[Panga] did not have to wait for a designation, as MC 1 correctly laid out the rule in filling up the vacancies it created, in order to avoid any disruption in government service delivery,” said Bagro. He added that Panga was, likewise, duty-bound under the law to continue acting as OIC until December 31 by virtue of MC 3, or until his replacement is appointed or designated, whichever comes first. “We highlight that Secretary Pascual did not designate the OIC. It was the Office of the President via MC 1 that, in effect, mandated the assumption of the most senior career officer into the functions of the agency OIC,” Bagro added. He stressed that it was actually in response to the interference of Plaza, “who attempted to prolong her performance of duties and powers resulting in confusion among the PEZA employees, officials and locators” that Secretary Pascual issued the department order to “resolve such interference in the management and operation of the PEZA and to prevent any damage to the institution and its stakeholders.” “As an alter ego of the President, the secretary was well under his rights to step in and clarify the lines of authority in PEZA, which we reiterate, is an agency attached to the DTI,” Bagro said. In a statement sent to The Manila Times on Friday, Plaza reiterated that her position is covered under the Civil Service Commission (CSC) rules and presidential memos and not DTI department orders. She said the appointment of the position of the PEZA director general is done by the President. The CSC rules thus that “the DTI department confirming an OIC cannot supersede the CSC rules and the Presidential Memos 1 and 3 on the status of PEZA as a government instrumentality with corporate powers.” “PEZA is exempted from MC 1 and that the PEZA DG position is not vacant, but on a holdover capacity until December 2022,” Plaza argued.